Food safety tips to follow in your home
Experts advise us how to handle food properly, choose the best kitchen accessories and make food safely.
“In many restaurants we can eat better than at home, although sometimes it seems the opposite, it is because in restaurants they know what to do. They have been trained in food handling and food safety, and sometimes we don’t have that knowledge when we cook at home,” says Miguel Ángel Lurueña, doctor of food science and technology, Agricultural engineer and author of the blog Gominolas de petróleo.
With regards to food products from the industry, Lurueña comments that yes, they are safe: "As for what we buy in stores, there is security, we should not worry there". Gemma del Caño, a pharmaceutical company specialising in R&D&I and Industry and Master in Innovation, Biotechnology, Safety and Quality has the same opinion: "Yes, we eat safely, not healthily. Food within the industry, if all the requirements are met." In the case of bars and restaurants, the expert tells us what she does to decide whether to eat in that place or whether to run away: "What I notice a lot is how the facility is, if it is clean. Sometimes you can see the kitchen. Also the bar, how practical are the handling waiters, if they clean everything with the same rag… I look at all that before I order something to eat.”
Bacteria in food
Food can contain bacteria such as E. coli and cause food poisoning with nausea or vomiting, severe abdominal cramps, bloody or liquid diarrhoea, tiredness and fever. This bacterium, specifically, doubles its amount every 20 minutes. A high load of bacteria can especially affect pregnant women, children, the elderly, and immunocompromised people.
As Gemma del Caño points out, our refrigerators contain Listeria, another bacterium that can cause problems. However, don’t panic, if your fridge is cleaned correctly and frequently (drawers, shelves, walls…) there is no need to worry.
With regard to food, there are bacteria that can cause pathologies and others that cannot. Miguel Ángel Lurueña explains that, "There is bacteria that can make us sick but that don’t alter food, for example, Salmonella and Listeria. These are the most dangerous and the most frequent. You can eat an omelet that has Salmonella and tastes very good because Salmonella does not alter the flavor. If it upsets the taste, no one would get sick because they wouldn’t eat it.
"A very common mistake is to think that if food smells bad or looks bad it is because it is bad and if it looks good or smells good, it is the irrefutable proof that it is good. It’s not like that. To put it simply, there are two types of bacteria: some spoil food but do not have to be pathogenic and others are pathogenic but do not have to spoil food. Normally we associate the two things because when a food smells bad, it is supposed that it already contains bacteria, and there can be bacteria of all kinds, of those that spoil the food and of those that cause us to feel ill, that sometimes are the same".
If it is true that in summer there are more food poisonings, Lurueña tells us that salmonellosis (a disease caused by Salmonella bacteria present in food) is seasonal, especially in summer. "This is because high temperatures favour their development, especially if we leave food at room temperature.
Then we leave you a good battery of food safety tips to implement at home. Because now we know there are more risks at home than outside.
"The first thing we have to take into account and that is very important is the washing of hands before cooking. After having touched money, a pet, the risk increases,” says Gemma del Caño, a pharmaceutical company specializing in R&D&I and Industry and Master in innovation, biotechnology, safety and quality
"You have to wash your hands not only before you start cooking. Maybe we wash them before we start cooking but take raw eggs or raw chicken and do not wash them again before touching other food or other utensils or yourself on a rag. In the end, we’re transmitting those bacteria that may be on the surface of raw eggs or raw chicken meat and we’re scattering them all over the kitchen, "says Miguel Ángel Lurueña, a doctor in food science and technology, Agricultural engineer and author of the blog Gominolas de petróleo.
They need to be disinfected properly and changed from time to time. Disinfect them by putting them every three to four days in the washing machine and washing them with hot water (60ºC or more). The heat is what will prevent the formation of the biofilm, which are accumulations of bacteria that leave in the cloths and scourers a kind of greasy layer.
"The rags should be washed after each use with hot water and liquid dishwasher, rinse them well, remove excess water and then let them air dry. From time to time they can be put in the microwave to maximum power in a bowl with water, minimum three minutes (for the water to boil) and then when they cool, drain the water and let them dry. We shouldn’t reuse them very much,” says Rosa Porcel, a doctor in biochemistry and molecular biology, researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València.
"With regard to scourers, the recommendation for cleaning them is similar to that for rags. It seems that the most hygienic thing (after having tried different methods) is at the same time the simplest: wash very well, rinse, drain and let dry. There are some that have in their composition chemical compounds with fungicidal, fungistatic or bacteriostatic properties, such as zinc protionate or thiabenzadol. They can prevent both fungi and bacteria from developing, but the care would be the same. Don’t forget that when it has a time of use or is spoiled, you should throw it away and get a new one,” recommends Rosa Porcel, a doctor in biochemistry and molecular biology, researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València.
Wooden utensils are very porous, splintered and may contain traces of food. If we wanted to give them a good cleaning, we’d have to put them in the dishwasher, which we’re not going to do because it ruins them. Better to opt for silicone and plastic tools, but if they get nicked or cracked, they should be changed.
"Your cutlery should be made of stainless steel and if they are one piece, even better. Although wooden utensils are still used for the kitchen silicone is imposed for its multiple advantages and comfort. Silicone withstands high temperatures, is a smooth, non-porous material, very easy to clean, does not damage or scratch the pans. As in the case of kitchen tables, it is best to wash as you use it - on the one hand, it is more hygienic and on the other, there is less to wash at the end if you do not have a dishwasher. Choosing a silicone or steel furnace mould I think is a matter of taste. Both are safe. Silicone has the advantage that, as it is non-stick, it is easier to clean, withstands fairly extreme heat and cold temperatures and takes up little space because it is flexible. If you decide to use this type of mold, what I recommend is to buy it in reliable sites and check that it is food-grade silicone, of good quality, which assures us that it is safe and can be in contact with food,” says Rosa Porcel, Phd in biochemistry and molecular biology, researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València.
If you love wooden boards for aesthetics and do not want to do without them, Rosa Porcel, doctor in biochemistry and molecular biology, researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València, emphasizes that the ones you own should at least "be of good quality, hard wood and high density (they’re less porous) which ensures that they are not chipped and are resistant, preferably of bamboo, beech, olive, walnut or boj because others may have more or less toxic components or transmit undesirable flavours to food, as would happen with eucalyptus wood. They have to be varnished to reduce porosity or make them more durable. Here it should be kept in mind that this varnish does not come off at high temperatures and pass into food.
The proper washing of a wood cutting board would be with hot water and mild soap for dishes, and better by hand than in the dishwasher. Both high temperature and prolonged humidity do not suit the wood. Once cleaned, it should be dried completely with a (clean) cloth and dry or with absorbent paper before storing. The less time the wet board is, the better. Over time and as long as it hasn’t split or chipped (it should go to the trash immediately) you can give it a review with mineral oil for food use, not with vegetable oil because it can thicken the wood. In any case, whatever the material, it is advisable for reasons of hygiene and food safety that it be washed immediately after use, especially if raw meat has been cut".
Attention should be paid to dish rack as water accumulates in it and moulds can therefore be created. Make sure you dry it well after washing it.
The fruits and vegetables we buy can have contaminants like Listeria, so it is necessary to wash the drawers often to prevent this from passing from one food to another. As for the food, if we wash and cook it properly we will be eliminating the Listeria. In all the refrigerators there is Listeria but it is usually found in such a low quantity that it does not cause us any problems.
Cleaning with soap and water is enough. Never dry with a dishcloth. This should be used, solely and exclusively to dry our clean hands, never to clean or dry the worktop. Dry the counter with a piece of kitchen paper.
If we cut raw meat and then put salad lettuce on the same table and with the same knife, without washing previously, it could be passing the bacteria from the meat to the lettuce. It is important to wash kitchen appliances when using them for different foods, or change plates/kitchen appliances.
"Neither option is bad. Using a microfiber cloth only for that use is helpful if you urgently need something you just washed. Otherwise, you can let it air dry. Remember that tissue and moisture in addition to contact with food remains is an ideal source for the growth of unwanted bacteria such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, Staphylococcus or Escherichia coli. There is no shortage of them when it comes to safety and your health,” explains Porcel, a doctor in biochemistry and molecular biology, and researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València.
Do not thaw food on the counter at room temperature. This mistake, which is so common in households, poses a high risk to our health as we are meeting all the conditions for bacteria to multiply: water, food and ambient temperature. The correct thing to do is to remove the food from the freezer, allow it to thaw inside the refrigerator and consume it within 24 hours at the latest. If we don’t remember to do this or we didn’t plan on it, food can be thawed in the microwave. To do it safely, you have to stop every minute and a half or so and turn the food around, from the centre to the outside so the food doesn’t cook.
Food should be frozen flat as possible so that it freezes evenly and quickly. It is recommended not to overload the freezer, nor the fridge, so that the cold circulates properly and the food is cooled properly.
The eggs should not be stored in the door, but should be in their own container at the top of the refrigerator. Fresh products like meat and fish should go on the bottom. The reason is that if, by accident, some liquid falls on the food below, it can contaminate it. Fruits and vegetables should go in boxes. In the door the milk and butter should be stored. Food should be stored well packaged and with the caution that none contaminate another. This would be a type of direct contamination.
If we have just cooked and want to keep the food in the fridge, we should wait for it be room temperature (which is not the same as totally cooling down). In order to heat it up more quickly (it is better to cool it down in the shortest time possible to avoid the proliferation of bacteria), we can change it from a container, from the casserole to a Tupperware, for example. If we put hot food in the fridge, we’ll be raising the inside temperature and this would pose a bacteriological risk.
It is very important that all the containers we keep in the pantry are tightly closed. That way moths can be avoided. Moths appear in furniture in which there is food, when we leave open containers containing cereals (oats, rice, barley) or flours. In case the moths have already made an appearance, we will have to do a thorough cleaning, discard the containers that we suspect are contaminated, vacuum or remove the remains and then clean the surfaces properly.
This is known as secondary shelf life and it is indicated on the packaging. It is important to be vigilant with secondary shelf life dates, because if we buy large quantities of food to save money and packaging, we can surpass it and put ourselves at risk.
In the case of food that we have cooked and stored in the fridge, we should not keep it for more than three to four days. The same thing happens with fresh food and we must make sure that we cook it properly.
We should not freeze foods that we have cooked and stored in the fridge and that have passed the maximum time in which it is recommended to consume them (three to four days). If we do so, we will be freezing them with a significant load of bacteria (freezing does not destroy the bacteria). Neither should we freeze the day before they expire if they are packed. If we are not very clear when we are going to eat fresh food, it is most likely to be frozen right after we buy it.
On the other hand, if we want to re-freeze a food that we have previously thawed, we must do so within the first 24 hours after it has been defrosted in the fridge or after it has been cooked. In the latter case, we’ll reset the bacteria count to zero.
This is a serious mistake because we will be spreading all the bacteria in the raw food through the sink, the counter and, in general, through the kitchen, when we cook it we will eliminate them.
The egg shell is porous so that if it is washed, the membrane that covers it is destroyed and through the pores of the shell microorganisms can pass inside. These microorganisms can make us sick. If they are very dirty, it is best to clean them with kitchen paper.
For the same reason that we should wash the fruit and vegetable boxes, we should wash the raffia and cotton bags that we use when we go to buy. Food can have bacteria and if we do not wash the bags (in the washing machine, for example) in which we transport them, we will be infecting the next food we put inside.
It is not useful to soak them or under the tap and just rub them thoroughly when we wash them under the tap. It is not necessary to use bleach.
The expiry date is that which, if exceeded, poses a health risk, as in fresh foods. Best if Used by date is that when exceeded, the organoleptic characteristics (smell, colour, taste and texture) of the food may decrease but do not pose a health risk. An example of the latter would be to eat biscuits that have passed their prime consumption date. They’ll be soft or stale, but they won’t affect your health. However, if you go over, for example, three months from the date of preferential consumption of a chicken breast, you could have a serious problem.
If the fruit has become a little brown (oxidised), the ugly part is removed with a knife and you can eat the rest of the piece without any risk. If what you have is mould, you should throw away the whole piece of fruit. Moulds can produce toxins and these toxins are not seen or smelled and can be dispersed throughout the food.
The most common bacteria in eggs is Salmonella. This is only destroyed at a certain temperature, for this reason we must curdle the eggs of an omelette.
"For microwavable containers, you can use glass or food-grade plastic that is suitable for microwaves. You have to look at the symbols that usually come at the base of the container. If you have them, it is completely safe regardless of the manufacturing material. There is no more. If it has the symbol of the cup and fork, it’s a bowl you can put food in. If it has horizontal waves or a little drawing of a microwave, you can also heat it in the microwave. There is no risk or danger in using microwave plastic if it is suitable,” says Rosa Porcel, a doctor in biochemistry and molecular biology, researcher at the Universitat Politècnica de València.